Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

While there’s been some vicious mocking of 1980s hardcore punk on this site from time to time, that’s simply because the genre had presented some of the most ripe and plump musical targets of all time. A great majority of the youngsters who fell into hardcore bands during the early 80s were by no means the sharpest tools in the shed, or were so young and cycling through so much teenage hormonal rage that their early forays into songwriting tended to be a bit, mm, “underdeveloped” (to say nothing of band names like Millions of Dead Cops or Society System Decontrol). But let me state the friggin’ obvious and say that there was some incredible, raging, top-notch punk rock music produced during this era – some of the wildest and most aggressive rock and roll of all time, if you focus solely on the peaks and not the vast immeasurable valleys. If you take a snapshot of the entire 1980-83 American hardcore movement writ large, it’s all very mockable, and we can have a big party of laffs recounting some of our favorite lame bands. If you focus on the ten shredders I’m going to list for you here, you’ve instead got yourself some of the meanest, loudest, greatest sounds ever created – all of which are hereby enshrined as my first-ballot inductees in the American Hardcore Hall of Fame! Let’s meet our winners!

(Wait, one caveat – I am not including BLACK FLAG, because I consider their majesty to be punk rock -- or just plain rock of a very aggro lineage, not the insane tempos and beats-per-minute of hardcore. Hardcore is what the kids in Washington DC, the Midwest, and Boston were making; sure, they copped a lot of it from The Flag, but Black Flag stand above and apart from this still exceptionally worthy crew. Ditto for THE GERMS.) :

1. DIE KREUZEN : “Die Kreuzen” LP – Simply put, this is just the fiercest, most punishing record I’ve ever heard. If that sort of bluntness piques your interest, then the debut LP from Milwaukee’s finest is made for you. It makes God weep, Motorhead tremble and Danzig look like a mincing little pansy. In other words, it’s ballistic blast after blast of savage screams and guitars pushed into the bleed zone, and it transcends superficial ear-shredding with massive riffs and chops that move by at lightning speed. When it came out people were dumbfounded. Tim Y at otherwise poor tastemakers Maximum Rock and Roll wrote a review that was the words "This is fucking great! This is fucking great!” repeated over and over. It’s just that kind of record, barely connected to the art-metal they pursued just one album later.

2. NEGATIVE APPROACH 7"EP (picture above) – A thick and deep roar from Detroit, Michigan circa 1981. “Can’t Tell No One” might just be the hottest HC tune of all time.

3. MINOR THREAT first 7”EP – The yellow one with Ian Mackaye’s bald head on the cover. Fast, mean, and as angry as it came – and every 45-second track builds on the one before it until the head of steam is so intense that I’m almost ready to renounce drinking.

4. VOID side of “FAITH/VOID” LP – If you’ve never heard the incredibly twisted artcore of VOID, I have to say there’s never been anything like it before or since. These guys were supposedly thick-necked suburban jocks with pickups & gun racks, but lurking somewhere in their collective psyche were a surrealist, a Dadaist and a deranged mental patient. Their side of this split LP starts strong and hard, but gradually gets more and more insane and weird, until the last 3 tracks, “War Hero”, “Think” and “Explode”, which are off-the-charts damaged, full of stops and starts and reverses galore. Totally amazing, and it blows me away every time I hear it.

5. NECROS : “Sex Drive” and “IQ 32” 7”EPs – Along with Minor Threat, these Midwestern beef boys set the template for how hardcore should be written – short, attacking, riff-heavy killers about stupid people, police brutality and teenage angst. “Sex Drive” itself is an absolute monster.

6. THE FIX entire discography – You can tell I really dig the early Touch & Go crew, hunh? This is the earliest hardcore on my list, 1980 for their “Vengeance” 45 – with a vocalist who sounds like he’s spitting up teeth between verses and a guitar sound that’s way over the top. I want to give special mention to their “No Idols” on the “Process of Elimination” label sampler EP – a rabid and choking bile-fest that would have slayed everyone for miles around if the production could have been cranked up a couple notches. Unfortunately, one of the hallmarks of US hardcore were these 10-song 7”EPs, with grooves packed so tight that the songs sounded tinny and distant. Anyone want to put out a 12” maxi-single of “No Idols” b/w Negative Approach’s “Can’t Tell No One”?

7. GANG GREEN tracks on “This Is Boston, Not L.A.” LP – You want the fastest of the fast? The snottiest of the snotty? I love the blink-you-missed numbers from Boston’s GANG GREEN on this regional compilation: “Snob”, “Lie Lie”, “Rabies” (“I got rabies!! Get away from me!!”) etc. I still can’t believe anyone could play that quickly and still eke out discernable riffs this brutal. Great obnoxious vocals, too – everything else the band did is way, way below the gold standard set here.

8. HUSKER DU : “Everything Falls Apart” LP – Arguably not a straight-up “hardcore” album per se, since it contains a handful of mid-tempo tracks (including a pointless cover of “Sunshine Superman”), but “Everything Falls Apart” is such an overall whomping, wide-grooved thud – brutally fast in places – that I think, on the basis of incredible bonzai tracks like “Signals From Above” and “Punch Drunk”, it easily qualifies. So bug-eyed aggressive and hostile that Bob Mould’s been trying to distance himself from the thing for two full decades now.

9. DEEP WOUND 7”EP – J. Mascis and Lou Barlow were just kids when they created this 10-song blitzkrieg along with a couple teenage buddies; it has aged far better to my ears and gives a more lasting representation of Boston hahdcore than SS Decontrol, DYS, FUs and others in the straight-edge contingent of the day.

10. TAR BABIES first two 12”EPs – The complete opposite of tinny and distant (see The Fix, above) – two 12-inch, 45rpm shitstorms of ultra-fuzzed, maximum volume lightning punk rock. Why these remain out of print and totally impossible to find, I cannot say. These guys did a 180-degree turn a couple years later and became sort of a funky Meat Puppets (“Fried Milk” – actually a really good record), but for a year or two they were standing among the kings of hardcore mountain.